Scott Walker Is Trying to Mortgage Wisconsin’s Future to Fund his White House Bid

Scott Walker’s lack of popularity in Wisconsin is certainly noticeable. It seems everybody hates Scott Walker. Granted, I’m in among those “Madison liberals” Republicans despise so much, but you don’t see a lot of bumper stickers around these parts supporting Walker. You do see Obama bumper stickers and even anti-Walker bumper stickers, but nothing that makes you believe somebody might have violated the very laws of nature by voting for Walker. In a way, even the lack of bumper stickers is a damning silence.

A bigger problem for Walker right now, however, might be that his own party doesn’t like him. The New York Times yesterday characterized the situation as a “revolt,” a state of affairs certainly much worse than simple anger or a little grumbling.

Is his “big bold leadership” in trouble already?

The problem right now is his budget, which Wisconsin Republicans say is looking tailored more for out-of-state Republicans like voters in Iowa, than for Wisconsin.

Specifically, they say, some way must be found to pay for repairs to infrastructure – roads and bridges.

To listen to Scott Walker, Wisconsin can have its cake and eat it too, as he said with regards his last budget:

The 2013-2015 Budget allocates more than $6 billion to our transportation infrastructure. This significant investment by the state will make major improvements to our highway system and increase spending on harbor upgrades and freight rail. In addition, there are no gas tax increases, no mileage-registration, no fee increases, and there are no scheduled delays for any highway projects.

For the 2015-2017 budget, it is $7.36 billion he wants to devote to Department of Transportation spending. As is so often the case with Republican rhetoric, it just ain’t so. He can’t do the work without tax increases, fees, or delays.

If the Republicans who run the state can’t raise taxes (e.g. gas tax) or fees (like vehicle registration fees), and Walker says they can’t (And as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel points out, he is “Armed with the nation’s most powerful veto”), then where does the money for Wissconsin infrastructure come from?

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial said recently that the “State needs to start thinking creatively about road funding.”

Unless new sources of sustainable revenue are found to pay for maintenance and building, commerce could well choke on the potholes, crumbling pavement and weakened bridges that will become the hallmark of Wisconsin roadways.

Republicans are long practiced at performing sleight of hand and making money disappear into the pockets of the rich, but they can’t make money appear out of thin air. This analysis shows where cuts would be made in lieu of borrowing.

According to Robin Voss (R-Rochester), Speaker of the State Assembly, Walker has declined to have “an adult conversation” about infrastructure. Nor did he endear himself to some Republicans when he cut funding to the University of Wisconsin.

Voss argues on his website:

The state is expected to have a nearly $6 billion deficit in the transportation budget over the next decade and a significant shortfall in the upcoming two-year spending plan. Governor Walker has proposed borrowing $1.3 billion for road projects in the 2015-17 state budget. Assembly Republicans, from the very beginning of the budget process, have said that amount of bonding is too high. This is one of the last issues being ironed out in the budget process and it’s an important one for many reasons. It not only impacts the future funding of our roads, but also the entire fiscal health of our state.

So they talk about borrowing money. Walker wanted to borrow $1.3 billion for the roads. Arnold did that in (or “to”) California. They are still paying for it. I have a conservative friend in California who hates Arnold as much as he hates Hillary, and for better reasons, I’d say.

Doesn’t sound like responsible government to me. What happened to not passing your government debts on to our children?

According to Voss, “it’s much more conservative to spend only what you have, instead of running up the state’s credit card.”
Voss says that’s “irresponsible.” He even underlines it. “You can’t borrow your way to prosperity,” he says.

Ouch, Governor Walker. I think that was directed at you.

But Walker isn’t trying to borrow Wisconsin’s way to prosperity. He is trying to borrow his way into the White House.
Voss points to some problems Walker would probably just as soon pretend don’t’ exist:

If we approved Governor Walker’s proposed transportation budget with $1.3 billion in bonding, the state would have to spend 25 cents of every transportation dollar on debt service instead of using that money to build and fix roads and bridges. Looking at it another way, that is $443 million a year in payments on our road debt, or $8.5 million a week!

Or simply not doing the needed work on roads and bridges? That doesn’t sound very responsible either. Bridges fall down. People die. How is that responsible government?

Yes, Republicans, much as they claim to hate socialism, love the things socialism gives them – like roads and bridges. And no more than Democrats do they want them to collapse.

But there is also the problem of what sorts of projects transportation money is being spent on, like roundabouts (traffic circles) in remote areas, fishing piers (yes, with transportation dollars), decorative bridges (fancy lighting and murals), and Wisconsin’s very own bridge to nowhere.

It’s a conundrum, yes it is, and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones puts it well when he says,

As in so many other states, even Republican legislators are starting to glom onto the fact that if you cut taxes, you’re pretty likely to create a big budget hole. Unfortunately for them, they’re learning that there’s only so far you can go in crapping on the poor to close the hole.

Here’s the problem: Walker is running for president. Raising taxes and preserving his conservative bona fides are incompatible. The Republican legislature knows the role they played in Walker’s success. They are not running for president.

No surprise then they have different goals and incentives. Walker doesn’t care if he sticks it to Wisconsin or to the Republican legislature. He is in this for Scott Walker, not for anyone else. Even the Republicans in the legislature can see this.

He plans on living in a big white house in a little more than a year. The Republican legislators will be stuck here holding onto a big bag of bills and no money to pay them. They may not be thinking of right and wrong here, but they are definitely thinking about their jobs.

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